Roger L. Simon

May the Shutdown Go On Forever

A snowman holds a sign in front of the Capitol on Monday, Jan. 14, 2018, that reads "Gov't Snowdown" after the Washington area had its first big snow storm of the year. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

It’s hard to read the anonymous posting on the Daily Caller from a “senior Trump official” without coming to the conclusion that the current partial government shutdown should remain shut essentially forever. (It won’t.  I know. But hear me out.)  Putting aside whatever pro-administration bias the author might have, the article confirms everything one suspects or knows about bureaucracies, especially government ones.

They do nothing that warrants punishment and nothing of external value. That is their workday: errands for the sake of errands — administering, refining, following and collaborating on process. “Process is your friend” is what delusional civil servants tell themselves. Even senior officials must gain approval from every rank across their department, other agencies and work units for basic administrative chores.

Well, it’s not as bad as what one former Justice Department attorney told me about life inside the DOJ — that under-utilized $200K/yr lawyers sit there all day looking at porn on their computers — but it’s bad enough.  This is the civil service from time immemorial.  Eventually most government agencies, federal and state, resemble the Department of Motor Vehicles.  You sit down and wait your turn until some bored, often self-loathing bureaucrat deigns to speak with you about your license renewal or whatever.  And all your papers had better be in order or go to the end of the line.  It’s the way of the bureaucrat–spiteful and depressed. What incentive do they have to be different?  You don’t have to be a Trump supporter or even a libertarian to know that.  You just have to exist in the world.

Yes, yes, I know National Park rangers are great guys and gals, Smokey, and it’s not all like that.  And, yes, I’d prefer it if some museums were opened.  (The Johnny Cash Museum here in Nashville seems to be operating at a profit.  Maybe they should try that.) And, yes, it may seem callous to advocate continuing the shutdown in the face of a fair number of people going without salaries (temporarily — they always get them in the end), but, with unemployment numbers at an all-time low, this might be a time to examine alternatives. Being on the government payroll isn’t the be all and the end all of life.  It may in fact be a dead end, not just for the country and its taxpayers, but for the workers themselves.

These days,  private businesses large and small are actively looking for new employees, not, as is often the case, the other way around. Former government workers might not always be the best prospects but many had strong enough resumés to get their Washington jobs in the first place.  All they really need is to be weaned of the bad habits gleaned by working in a bureaucracy.  It’s a chance for them to contribute to society, rather than sit in a government office waiting for the next coffee break or elongating the one they’re already on.  It’s a much more psychologically sound way to live. “Change/Opportunity” as they say in the I Ching.

That mysterious Trump official is also correct in saying that the shutdown should be about much more than the wall and border security.  Serious as they may be, they are what the shrinks call the “presenting complaint.”  The real issue is the function of government itself — what’s important and what’s not. A shutdown can serve as a living laboratory for examining the question of what is actually worthwhile that is missing because of that event.  I daresay that most outside the Beltway would be hard pressed to find anything. (A fair number of these people can get around the National Parks by themselves, especially in the days of GPS.)

Both sides fear shutdowns not just because of that nauseatingly tedious inter-party blame game, but more importantly because it exposes this bloat and who caused it (i.e., who paid for what).  This is the Deep State in action, in the off-chance anyone hasn’t noticed.  What has been created by our government over decades is a self-preservation machine immune to the normal capitalist processes of creative destruction that have largely improved society over centuries, enriching almost everyone and extending life expectancy.

Now, in the midst of this shutdown, our country is again at that perpetual road fork between capitalism and socialism.  This is ironic in that socialism, as evidenced by Venezuela, is suffering one of its most drastic defeats ever in what was once the wealthiest country on its continent.  It’s hard to see how anyone could believe in that system anymore and yet, due in great part to our abysmally biased educational system, a whole generation seems bent on reinventing not the wheel but the sinkhole.

Keeping the shutdown shut for a while might help us rethink this. The question is will it do any good.  In the short run, probably not.  But we can hope for the long run.

UPDATE:  I have received email complaining that I am tarring all federal employees with the same bad brush.  Of course, I didn’t mean to do that and many, obviously, are doing necessary work.  My point is that this shutdown could be (although it probably won’t be) an opportunity to examine which ones are which.

Roger L. Simon – Co-founder and CEO Emeritus of PJ Media – is an author and screenwriter.